People ignoring social distancing despite spike in infectionsWhen officials and politicians themselves have been organizing functions and rallies in defiance of Covid restrictions, ordinary people have stopped taking the precautions, experts say.
On Saturday morning, Ram Kumar Shrestha’s meat shop was filled with customers. But only a few were wearing masks while social distancing was completely ignored.
Shrestha who has been running the meat shop at Kageshwari Manahara-7, Kathmandu for the past eight years, said that in the beginning when his shop reopened after months of lockdown, he followed the government order to ensure social distancing. He painted red circles on the floor outside the shop for the customers to wait their turn and avoid crowding.
“People did follow the queue system in the beginning as many were in fear of contracting the virus , but now most people seem to have lost the fear, so they cause a crowd at the shop,” Shrestha told the Post.
“I cannot tell each individual to stay in a distance or wear a mask as I am busy taking orders, and I know making red circles again would be useless as no one observes social distancing these days,” he added.
Last year on March 24, when the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, the country had recorded just one active Covid-19 case. Even though it was just one case, people were fearful and had followed the government's instruction to wear masks and maintain physical distance while venturing out.
But now when the country is already in the grip of a second wave of the pandemic, people appear to be careless.
With more than 297,087 Nepali infected so far including 3,136 deaths from Covid-19, health experts and frontline workers have been pleading for people to adhere to the safety protocols as the government is fighting the pandemic with its limited resources.
Psychology experts however said they are not surprised by the public behaviour as Covid-19 is no more a new thing to them.
According to Dr Prabhakar Pokharel, a Kathmandu-based consultant psychiatrist, people's understanding of the virus has changed. “In the beginning after all that news on the traditional media and social media people thought the virus was very dangerous, but later when they saw people catching the virus and recovering without serious illness, their attitude towards the virus has changed,” Pokharel said.
“In the beginning, people followed restrictions in fear of getting the virus but over time they have lost that fear.”
“Besides, the government has not been imposing the restrictions strictly as earlier and we now see the government officials and politicians themselves have been organizing public gatherings and rallies. So ordinary people also have stopped taking the precautions,” he added.
Amid the growing number of cases, on Monday the government announced a slew of restrictions like shutting down schools, cinemas, banquet venues, dance bars, dohori places, dancehalls, clubs, health clubs, gyms, swimming pools and futsal courts.
Similarly, assemblies, political rallies, and participation in stadiums were also banned. However, on Saturday during the final cricket match of the Tri-Nation Series between home team Nepal and the Netherlands at TU cricket ground, Kirtipur, hundreds of people had gathered to watch the match and support Nepal. “Though entry inside the ground was restricted, people had gathered in large numbers outside the ground and we could not do anything,” said Deputy Superintendent Rupesh Tandukar, in-charge of the Metropolitan Police Circle, Kirtipur. “They were not following social distancing while many even did not have masks on their faces. It seemed they did not have any fear of the virus.”
On the same day, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli inaugurated the newly-constructed Dharahara tower at Sundhara amid a special function. Hundreds of people had gathered in the area to watch the inauguration. Many people on social media expressed their frustrations at the lack of social distancing during the inauguration.
“I am scared. I am afraid of catching Covid again. I am afraid I might spread the virus to others. My one mistake could take others not only to hospital but to death bed. I don’t want to be a hero. Today, the drama of Dharahara inauguration has mocked at frontline workers,” wrote a twitter user.
The government on Monday had also decided to restrict gatherings of over 25 people at festivals, weddings, other life rituals and funerals. However, as the wedding season is here, no one appears to be following the restriction order and at the same time there are no officials to monitor if the order is being observed.
“I went to my friend's wedding on Wednesday which was organised at his home but when I saw the crowd at the wedding, I got scared and returned,” said Nikesh Phuyal, 26, of Kathmandu.
According to Dr Anup Bastola, spokesperson for the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, people ignoring the Covid safety measures are ‘in fact jumping into the fire’.
“People are not only getting infected themselves by exposing themselves to crowds but they are also spreading the virus rapidly,” said Bastola. “The new variant of the virus is more dangerous than before as we have seen a patient who has been in ICU for 21 days now and he is on oxygen support from the start and has not recovered yet.”
In the last 24 hours alone, a total of 2, 486 people got infected from the virus while 14 people were reported dead.